The first question some people might ask is why any writer would need to learn techniques related to Point of View. Doesn’t POV automatically synchronize with the character’s thoughts as soon as these feelings are expressed by the writer? And isn’t the POV of a scene easily identified by an attribute or obvious implication? If it were just this easy.
Shifting POV is Only a Problem When People Notice It
Some writers possess the skill to seamlessly shift from one person’s thoughts to another. As readers, we won’t give this the slightest concern–as long as we don’t realize when it’s occurring. But even some of the most well-respected novelists have at times jarred readers with ineffective POV shifts. So what is it that enables a POV change to be acceptable in one instance yet not in another?
A POV Shift Works When the Reader Finds it Desirable
Most writers make POV shifts in a traditional manner. They add a line space to signify another character’s thoughts, or go so far as to start a new chapter altogether. But some writers will elect to show multiple characters’ most intimate feelings–within the same frame–without the slightest hiccup. These adept authors are able to accomplish this for a reason.
POV shifts in the same scene are effective when we have become so involved in our characters that we want to know each of their innermost thoughts–immediately. Simply, the pacing and intensity of the storyline can eliminate what might otherwise create a problem for the reader.
So What’s a Writer to Do?
The ability to shift POV at will doesn’t mean its importance has lesser significance, but there might not be the need to worship its inexorably, either. There may indeed be that one instance in a novel, a hospital scene for example, when an accident victim is bandaged like a mummy, and the following could occur:
John Davis blinked and could make out a doctor standing next to his bed, staring at him with a stethoscope dangling from his neck as if it were being held by two tentacles. John’s thoughts turned to his wife. With his lips quivering through thin slits of blood-soaked gauze, John tried to ask about her condition, but no words came out. The physician wanted to leave, but realized by the anguish in his patient’s eyes that he couldn’t just walk away. He bent down to the broken man and said, “Mr. Davis,–“
Certainly, for consistent POV, the penultimate sentence might have read: John sensed that the physician wanted to leave, but something told him that he couldn’t. The doctor bent down and said, “Mr. Davis,–”
But is the scene as powerful if it’s left entirely in John’s POV? Or would the scene work better if the penultimate sentence began a new paragraph? I don’t think so, but this is an individual decision that is highly subjective, and anyone would be justified in disparaging the illustration.
A Final Thought
Many learned people and grounded writers feel that POV is right next to Showing instead of Telling as an inviolable principal. And in most cases this is undeniably correct. But there might be that rare occurrence, such as in the example I offered, when a POV shift within a scene might even be preferable. And I would hate to think that any writer would avoid providing the reader with insight into a another character because of POV convention. There are a lot of techniques available to enable the telling of a story and telling it well. And it’s obviously the choices that separate writers.
Robert L. Bacon is the Founder of The Perfect Write(TM) theperfectwrite.com
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